Thursday, August 25, 2022

My favorite time at Big Hook...

    People often as what is my favorite time to be at Big Hook. While each month has its charm, the simple answer for me is late August / early September.

    The weather the past few weeks has been ideal. Comfortably warm days with just the slightest nip in the air at night that makes pulling over a blanket feel oh’ so good. The mosquitos have gone from the worst I ever remember in June to practically nonexistent. The longer nights often lead to some fantastic northern lights displays (as captured by last week’s guests at Burnt Lake). And, the fishing is outstanding!

Northern Lights at Burnt Lake

    Walleyes seem to be everywhere with several camps reporting numerous trophy catches. West lake’s largest for the week topped out at 28” and their catch count was in the “hundreds”. Interestingly West was finding them shallower than other reports, in about 8 feet of water. They hauled in several big pike too with 45 breaching the 30” mark and 3 north of 40”.

    South had a remarkable week also. Strict walleye fishermen, focused on big fish, they found them - with 31 fish over 25”! Pictures are suspiciously absent, but I do believe them. They know the lake well and were fishing hard. Checking out the brag sheet at South there have been a
Central Lake 42.5"
few other 28-29” fish caught and released since my last report. The reputation there for BIG walleye is well deserved.

    Most reports, save last week’s at West, has the walleye in the 15-20’ depths. I verified this myself yesterday, sneaking in a few hours on the water at Central before our fish fry. 18’ was the magic depth for me. Most folks are employing the standard jigs and crank baits, although a few fisherfolk did very well using crawler harnesses also.

    Some BIG pike are being caught too with top water action still in full swing. This dandy 42” was caught and released at Central Lake by a first-time visitor. Her dad claims some credit, though, “guiding” her to it.

  There’s another new employee at Big Hook. “Ripp” has gotten his sea legs under him and should prove to be an excellent fishing companion for years to come. He is training to be an avalanche rescue dog in the wintertime and will be on bear and swim patrol at Big Hook all summer. Lucky dog. Lucky Ryan.


   It’s hard to believe there’s only a few more weeks left in our season up here. Late season guests should continue to enjoy great weather and great fishing. We have a good number of openings for August 2023. Give us a call or email if you’d like to do the same next year! In the meantime, we’ll savor this magical time of year up here. Fall will be here before we know it.

Happy fishing everyone,


Friday, August 5, 2022

Opasquia Alligators...

Greetings all, 

 A rainy day in Opasquia Provincial Park has left me with a few minutes to post an update on all things Big Hook. 

There has certainly been a hint of fall in the air with some cool temps, darker nights, and a few yellow leaves starting to appear. Football on TV last night added to the aura. 

The fish seem to still be all about summer, however. Northern Pike action has been fast and furious with LOTS of trophy pike being boated – occasionally at the same time! 

The pair below was caught by a father / son duo at Central Lake. Apparently, there was some discussion about who needed the net more urgently. Both fish were boated, photo’d, and released to be caught again. 

Various top-water presentations continue to be favored although many lunkers are also being picked up trolling for walleye. Big fish seem to be everywhere. 
The walleye bite has been great too. Reportedly the fish have been a bit scattered but very willing biters. I expect they will school up soon and continue to dive a little deeper as it seems one more bout of summer is inevitable (and welcome) before fall really takes root. 

The Big Hook team has been busy with projects, the water has finally receded enough for us to make some dock crib repairs from damage leftover from ice out. Dan and Maria have also perfected their outhouse hole technique – churning out excavations in record time. 

We added one more employee in July. Maria’s dog Luna came in with her father for a visit and is taking to her summer home quite well. We’ve got to do something about her sleeping on the job, however. 

For those who have never been to Big Hook in the late summer, it’s a must do at some point. We’re really looking forward to those deep, schooled walleye feeding heavily before the turnover and ravenous pike who’s metabolism is at its peak. Add to it some crackling woodstoves, star gazing, and maybe even a glimpse of the northern lights, it is a magical time to be up here. 

Happy August everyone, Ryan

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Summer is in Full Swing!


It’s prime time summer at Big Hook right now. Warm, sunny summer days have been busy churning out biomass on the land and in the lake. Our lawn mower (Pilot Dan) has been busy taming the lawns and keeping the bush from over taking. In the water, weed beds and cabbage are fully developed and the Pike have been staking their claim in this habitat. They have been downright territorial defending this turf smacking anything that makes a splash.

Moonrise over Central
Last week’s group at Cocos went hard after them and boated more than a dozen trophy sized fish including several that were north of the 40” mark. Their lure of choice were red and white or silver spoons tipped with a 3” tail.

 The mayfly hatch has come and gone, although it was a good 7-10 days later than usual up here. The hatch at Central was not as sudden and prolific as most years, more of a tapered, gradual affair. The walleye fishing here didn’t slow down a bit. A few of the outposts reported bigger hatches that did impact the walleye fishing some. More current reports are that the walleye bite is back in full swing as the fish try to refill their bellies once again.

37.5" While Working on Dinner
 South and West Lake fishermen were able to boat several trophy Walleye this week. Including a 29” on a top water lure and a few in the mid 20’s with Rat-L-Traps.

 Water temps are in the low 70’s and the water levels are coming down substantially (3’ or more) which should finally allow us to get in the water and make some crib repairs from ice out damage this spring.

 With all that water flowing out, Central Lake fishermen have reported great fishing above Central’s outlet. I’d expect the same at the inlets and outlets of all our locations.

It’s hard to believe how short the summer season is up here, already staring down the second half of July. Like the fish, animals, and plants, we’ll enjoy it while it lasts!

 Good fishing everyone,


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Better Late Than Never… 

Big Hook, 2022 is underway! While not the easiest of openings, all the camps are now bustling with guests. The purr of outboards and bent rods are now taking the place opening paraphernalia like hammers, vacuums, and chainsaws.  

A brutal winter in the north carried on into a stubborn spring. Big snowfall accumulations through the winter along with heavy, wet snows this spring led to an extremely late ice out and all-time high water levels. Currently the water at Central is about 2 feet above normal – and that is down a good foot and a half from when we arrived on May 21.

Our first flight into camp revealed a great deal of ice lingering on all the bigger water, fortunately the narrower passageways closer to camp were free and clear – of ice at least; all the highwater has led to numerous floating obstructions like logs, sometimes whole trees, and even a dock or two.

With the historically high water and an east wind as the ice went out several of our docks were mangled messes. They have since been cobbled together, but we are awaiting a few more degrees of water temps before we begin swim season / crib repair.

The weather since our opener has been variable to say the least. Our first week’s guests faced a brutal nor’easter that lingered for most of the week. There was more than 3 inches of rain, even snow and sleet at times. Oh, and plenty of wind just for good measure. A LOT of firewood was consumed. People were all still grins, however, and the fishing really seemed to turn on the second half of their week. Predictable given the late Walleye spawn in relation to the cold spring.

Guests were nailing hungry, post-coital Walleye in 4-7’ of water. Small and slow presentations were definitely the ticket. Casting light jigs with smaller tails, letting them sink, and then a quick jerk or two seemed a surefire way to elicit a strike.

 We weren’t able to do much flying in the weather described and when the weather proved nice enough to fly, it was also nice enough to be out fishing – we found mostly empty camps on our visits, so I don’t have too much more in the way of fish tales from week one.

On to week two… what proved to be one of the most idyllic early summer weeks you could imagine. Pleasant sunny days and comfortable temps abounded. Instead of burning firewood, guests were burning boat gas, and a lot of it, traveling to the far reaches of each camp. I missed the groups at Cocos, Burnt, and West on our mid-week camp checks, but did run into the guys at South Lake who reported numerous trophy catches, including a half dozen walleye over 25”, and two of which almost breached the 30” mark – all at a small, windblown inlet they found towards the north end of the lake.

In weeks 3-4 the fishing has continued to be phenomenal. A group at West really got after ‘em, with a father and son boating a 42.5” pike and a 31’ walleye! A couple at Burnt Lake averaged more than 200 fish / day with their total catch count of 1439. The guys at Southwest’s description of the fishing was “Out of this world.”

We are starting to see more and more fly rods up here – and maybe for good reason. The 31” walleye was caught on a top-water frog imitation.

As the water warms, the fish are now going a little deeper. Slightly larger jig head sizes have been taking favor. Little Cleo’s and Lazy Ike’s have also been producing.

For those with upcoming trips, it won’t be long before the top water season really takes root.

While the excitement of opening and anticipation of peak summer months is heartening, on a more somber note, I must share the news of Tom Brotherston’s passing. Tom, who for all purposes was the founder of Big Hook, passed away last month, when the single engine plane he was piloting collided with a communications tower in Sandy Lake. So sudden and unexpected, I think many in the Big Hook and Sandy Lake communities are still in disbelief – I know I am. Having spoken to him by radio minutes before, I can say he was his own special brand of happy, jovial, yet ornery right up till the end. He will be missed by many and his legacy at Big Hook will live on.  

Godspeed, Tom.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Back In Business!

Greetings from the great, wet north!

A long overdue wilderness blog from Big Hook, September, 2021. 

First and foremost: a huge thank you to all of our customers that have gone to amazing lengths to string together a 2021 trip. Things at the border are reportedly going smoothly now… wait times are typical for any year, the pre-travel tests have been going well, and the required ArriveCan app has taught a few folks about Canadian postal code customs (P0V 2M0 =’s PzeroV 2Mzero not P ‘oh V…). Save one group of southern gentlemen who affectionately called a female border officer “Honey,” there has been little in the way of excitement in the travel department. Apparently the officer preferred “Ma’am.”

The weather… the weather has been weathery. As most are aware, Northwestern Ontario had been facing one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. My flight in with 2021 Big Hook pilot, Dan, had us squinting to find land marks through the smoke and left us with scratchy eyes and dry throats our first few days around camp in early August.

Within a few days, however, the monsoons began. And continued right up through our closing week with 3-4 day drenchers at a time. I have never seen such a wet August (or any month) at Big Hook. The lake levels came up more than two feet! 

The deep, deep low pressure system that kicked off the rains seemed to have the fish in a little funk for our first customer who came to Canada on the border reopening day of August 8th. He caught (and cleaned) fish for he, Dan, and I every night which was much appreciated as we were working long days getting the other camps open. The fishing just wasn’t up to Big Hook standards, however. Then, on day four, the skies parted and the fishing has been gangbusters ever since. As he described it, “the fish are everywhere.”

Now amassing a (short) season’s worth or reports, I can relay stories of ravenous walleyes and voracious pike (not to mention BIG). Large catch numbers in the 100’s per day were reported by several groups. A mid-August group at West boated more than forty northerns over 30” – with five in the 35”-40” class and a half dozen that were 40”+. Their largest stretched the width of the boat at 44”. Their hot bait was a red and white Kastmaster.

There were several big pike sightings at Central, including one that “had to be 40+” but wiggled off due a fraternity brother’s suboptimal netting. We were told it may have been intentional.

Several big pike were caught and released at Burnt Lake also. A September group there tied into a pair of 40”ers on black and white Rapalas (7”).

Hot baits for walleye included perch colored Hot N’ Tots and 3/8oz jigs – any and all colors were reportedly working well.

There were several breaks in the otherwise wet weather that allowed Big Hook staff to get out and complete a number of projects including an exterior facelift at West, a new dock and porch flooring at South, a power grid upgrade at Central, and a new outhouse location at Cocos.

Apologies for anyone that may have tried to contact us during our operational season this year but was unable. Our old internet satellite was decommissioned and the new Starlink system we have installed and waiting has yet to be activated at our latitude. To add to the frustration, it is currently operational as far north at 53°, which includes Sandy Lake (Big Hook is 53.3°). Somewhere in the 40 miles in between, however, the signal drops off. SpaceX and Elon Musk himself suggested it was to go live up to the polar regions in August. Alas, it still hasn't as of writing, but is expected soon. We will be certain to have a fallback in place for 2022 and I, now out of the bush, am available by phone and email anytime.

It was so wonderful to see the camps open and busy again. I think everyone agreed outpost fishing with close family and friends was about the best thing to happen in the last 18 months. We’ve already begun our countdown to 2022 for those who weren’t able to join us this year. I, for one, can’t wait!

With the camps buttoned up and the plane in dry dock, I’ll sign off for the season. Looking forward to being in contact with many of you through the fall, winter, and spring.

                                                                    Happy Fall everyone,




Friday, August 28, 2020

The season that wasn't...

Greetings to all; 

    Unfortunately, this finds me writing the "wilderness" blog in markedly less wild Minnesota (although the downtown area seems to be trending the other direction when current events are taken into account). The change of locales has come about because the final nail is in the coffin for our 2020 season with the most recent extension of the U.S. / Canada border closure, continuing the ban on pleasure travel until at least late September. 

    With that news breaking and running out of materials for improvements and AVGAS to keep the plane in the air, it was time to button up the camps for the season. 

    While it is always a little bit of a somber affair, it was a particular downer to be winterizing everything when the season is still in its prime and so many of you were holding out hope to join us. This situation is obviously out of everyone's hands, but my sincere thanks to all our guests that tried so hard to make Big Hook a reality this year. It'll be even better next!  

FISH FRY! Can taste it now...
     Pat, Maria, and I made the best of it, however, and got lots and lots done with what we had on hand at the camps. I made a few flights down to Red Lake too, racking up some credit card miles in addition to the air miles at the hardware stores and marinas. Everything should be in tip top shape for next year's opening.  

    COVID kept employee party more subdued than normal too. The pilots, nurses, and teachers from Sandy Lake, generations of whom have all been regular participants going back to Tom's freewheeling era and then Nathan's college years, are not allowed out of Sandy Lake right now. Most reservations up north are totally closed to outsiders currently. I was allowed to land at Sandy once to get fuel, but had to remain on the dock. This was doubly frustrating since I could see the stacks of lumber, siding, flooring, etc... we brought up the winter road. It's also understandable, however - it would be very bad if COVID got into any of these small, remote communities. 

A new window and kitchen updates at SW
   We got in a little fishing too! We found lots and lots of walleye grouped up around the 15' mark all around Central. The entrance to the narrows north of the asteroid field provided particularly fast action on a mission to clear / check out the north portage. Maria and I were throwing jigs and twister tails - and having the most luck with 3/8 oz in white and pink. Pat deployed a size 6 hammered gold Panther Martin with good success too. 
Dock repairs and a new boat ramp at Burnt Lake



    Pat also pulled out his fly rod in search of some northern. He never tied into any oversized models, but did have great success with numbers using streamer and mouse patterns. I was lucky to catch the big northern of the party day (and the season) while walleye fishing with the aforementioned white and pink jig setup. 


Gunner for scale.

We had lots of pool parties (dock swims) to cool off after some long days working and a handful of fish fries that were as good as ever. We also got to try out the newly crafted log benches around the fire ring outside the big cabin at Main Camp. They should act as excellent pulpits for spinning fish tales for many seasons to come. 
Employee Pool Party


 Other exciting happenings since my last update include a lynx sighting while clearing out the South Portage and a fire scare for the town of Red Lake (the town had to be evacuated, but thankfully everything is now under control). 

  While this season (or the lack thereof) was obviously a let down, it has been incredibly heartening to be in regular contact with so many of you that hold Big Hook near and dear. I've gotten to hear all sorts of great stories from years past and we've made lots of plans for trips and memories to come. The countdown to the 2021 season has certainly begun.

    To celebrate all the good times (and round out this year's holiday card since 2020 photos will be lacking) I'd like to invite you to share a picture or memory from a trip to Big Hook. You can post pics to our Facebook page, tag us on instagram (@bighookcamps), or email them to me ( Stories to the same or in the comments below. I can't wait to see and hear what you've got. 

    Thanks so much to all of you, Ryan 

Thanks Maria and Pat for all your help. 
Looking forward to next year!

Saturday, July 18, 2020

It's Lonely Up Here!

Just like the jello mold at Christmas, some things you have to do for tradition's sake. With that in mind, The Big Hook Blog, summer 2020...

It's been a difficult year to say the least, but these sorts of hardships certainly put the important things in perspective. With that in mind, we'll focus on the good and try to enjoy the experience for what it is: unique. And unique it has been.

By the time I was allowed across the border, summer was already at its peak up here in Opasquia.

In order to abide by the current travel and quarantine restrictions in Canada, I had to drive directly from the border crossing south of Winnipeg to the maintenance facility that works on our airplane. Don't pass go, don't collect two hundred dollars, no liquor store, no Mcdonalds either. Gary and Jenn with Riverside Maintenance were kind enough to arrange a "contactless" delivery and had XZK already in the water and fueled up, all I had to do was load my stuff up and we were off.

Using what they could find, the MNR cobbled together a
shelter for their sprinkler pumps. Sunset still good. 
After two plus hours of flying I had Big Hook in my sights and touched down in the west arm of Central. It's a conservative landing, but I wanted to give myself plenty of room in case my float flying skills turned out to be rusty.

Tom with Sandy Lake Seaplane had stopped into Central once to check on camp and informed me of some bear damage. I was also aware of a fire that had started a few days earlier between the south side of Central and South Lake. I certainly wasn't expecting the rattle and hum of forest fire fighting sprinklers when I shut down the engine, however.

Unbeknownst to me, the Ministry of Natural Resources had spent the day setting up a sprinkler system as a precaution in case the fire turned north. In order to test the system and give everything a good soaking they left the pumps running. It was kind of like the 18th green at midnight gag I fell for years back - getting soaked as I stepped off the plane.

On the water at Central
I am extremely grateful for their hard work, however, and fortunately several rain storms have since put out the fire.

Then onto the waiting. Staff was to join me soon, but I needed to finish off the conditions of my quarantine. So, I went about many of the opening activities around camp - at least the ones I could manage on my own: turning on the water, getting the power online, internet and office up, etc... According to my phone I walked 8 miles up and down the board walk here one of those days. It's a bizarre experience to be the only human in a wilderness the size of many small countries. Fortunately Gunner kept me company, however.

Maria and Pat (who hail from Saskatoon, SK and Markdale, ON respectively) were able to join me before too long and are settling in nicely. Since their arrival, we've been able to get to Cocos, Burnt, and South Lakes, with a fly-over at West.

One of the biggest tasks so far has been knocking down the grass which is waste high in places. It's taking a beating on the equipment and we are now on hold till we can get new parts from Red Lake.

We are also going to have a good project with the dock at Burnt. A combination of high water and shifting ice picked up the floating dock and deposited it on top of the crib / pier.

The dock at Burnt had tough winter
The cabins otherwise seemed to have wintered well which will allow us to turn towards some improvements as soon as I can start hauling freight out of Sandy.

We have only been out fishing one evening so far, so the report is minimal. We spent an hour or two close to main camp and caught dinner plus a few more. The water is extremely high and the mayfly hatch extremely late - still many coming off at Cocos yesterday. For those who are West Lake aficionados, the rock right in front of camp appears to be completely under water and there is no shore left at Burnt either.

That's it for now. We'll be working away up here for awhile now. Like I said, we are really missing all of you!

We'll try to make the best of this, however, and I'll update again in another few weeks. Hopefully we'll make it out on the water a few times more between now and then. Wishing you all could join us.

Thanks for thinking Big Hook,
Maiden Voyage